Galas can inspire your supporters, staff, clients, and the community that you benefit with your programs, but as with any complex project with critical goals and multiple audiences, gala planning can be stressful.
As your agent, I can be helpful during the planning process to reduce stress and set up everyone—you, your guests, and the band—for success. Here are my thoughts on the questions I hear most often from event managers and gala volunteers:
What’s the benefit of working with a booking agent?
This is about more than getting a great band. This is about freeing up your staff, chairs, and other volunteers from details related to the band so that everyone can focus on fundraising to benefit your charity.
Should I just pick a band I like from your website?
I definitely want to know what music you like, but rather than ask you to make a blind choice based on what you see on the website (which doesn’t represent all the bands I work with, by the way, but just a sampling), I’ve got a process that really sets us up for success working together.
Before we talk about specific bands, I like to talk to the key stakeholders—in most instances, this is going to be your gala chairs and fundraising staff. Sometimes, there will be an honoree or entertainment chair, too. We make sure we’re all on the same page about budget and goals. Disco all night or classical jazz in the background and home in time for the news? Is everyone comfortable with a $5,000 budget, or is there one sentimental favorite that a major donor is willing to fly in from another city (and underwrite the $20,000 tab)? Let’s get it all on the table so everyone agrees on what we’re trying to accomplish.
Once we’ve set the parameters, I present a list of bands that not only fit, but that are actually available the night of the event. That’s why it helps to start early—9 months or even a year out—during gala season, great bands get hired fast!
What happens after we pick a band? Are we done? Do we work directly with the band now?
Much of your work is done, but mine is just beginning. I’ll be part of the process from our first conversation to the debriefing after your event.
I work with the nonprofit staff and the event venue to make sure we are matching expectations to regulations and facilities. A 20-piece mariachi band to welcome guests as they arrive in the valet parking area could be great, or it could violate the hotel’s agreement with the nursing home across the street—let’s find out up front instead of after you’ve signed the contract and sent the deposit!
I like to tackle questions about logistics ahead of time. We can work through questions about loading areas, access to the room for set-up and sound-check, technical equipment specifications, or whether or not the band needs access to a room for changing costumes.
We can do this work by phone, but I’m always glad to have a meeting onsite, and I’ll often recommend that. Being at the actual event space helps us visualize the flow of the event, examine the best locations for the band and dance floor, and uncover other technical issues that aren’t obvious until you are on location.
I’ll think about all of the questions so you won’t have to. After all, I’m seeing this not just as your agent, but as a musician who has played events like yours for over 20 years. I want to work out the details ahead of time so that everything will be in place for the band to show up and deliver an exciting, entertaining show that supports your goals for a successful event while you focus on your guests.
I can help with other elements of party planning, too. Need a few fun sentences about the band for your underwriting letter or invitation? Just ask and I’ll get you fun copy right away. Want a photo or sound clip for your website? I can make that happen.
Do you come to the event?
Whenever possible, the night of the event, I meet the band at the venue during load in but rarely stay for the performance since we have a great plan for the night well before the event start. I’ll introduce the band leader, who is the best person in the band to communicate with during the party, to your key staffers before the party starts.
Will the band play all night?
The timing and length of the band’s performance will complement the flow of your entire party. The band will time their sets to coincide with the different elements of your program, so that they don’t get everyone up onto the dance floor with high energy music just as you’re trying to get everyone in their seats to listen to your speaker.
If the guests are in the same room as the band for the party, then the band is happy to perform multiple sets throughout the evening. If there is a cocktail reception in a foyer before donors move in to the main room, then it might be best to consider other musical options, such as a solo guitarist, pianist, or instrumental combo play festive music as guests arrive at the gala.
How does the band pick which songs to play?
Obviously, if we’ve planned ahead of time for the band to play exclusively Motown, you don’t need to worry that they’ll serenade you with the latest Nashville country hits.
Since galas typically have a wide range of age groups in attendance, the band will play music with a wide appeal to all age groups.
The bands I represent do a great job of reading the audience and playing the songs that best fit the moment and the audience’s energy level. Typically, they kick off the night with more mellow material that sets a festive tone without overwhelming conversations. When the time is right, they kick it into high gear with upbeat dance music.
Directions like “we love Motown and disco but don’t want much country music” or “please play background music during dinner and dance favorites after dinner” are really helpful.
You are also welcome to request a few of your favorite songs from the band’s current song list. Planning the whole night, song by song, takes away spontaneity and limits the band’s ability to interact with the audience, read the crowd, and adjust in the moment to best meet the mood and goals.
Can we use the band’s microphones?
The number of guests and the nature of announcements are key factors for this one.
If your guest count exceeds 300 people and/or you have a program that exceeds 5 minutes, multiple speakers, video, or a live auction, your best bet is to hire a professional sound company for this part of the program so that your supporters hear and respond to your key messages. You don’t want to risk not being heard when the stakes are high, and you don’t want to lose your audience’s attention during transitions between band and speakers.
If your guest count is less than 300 people and you have a few short announcements (2 – 3 minutes), it is probably going to be much easier to rely on the band’s microphone. This is something we can plan ahead so that the speakers are introduced to the band leader.
Whether or not you’re using the band’s microphone, it helps to give all of your speakers the opportunity to practice talking on a microphone. This can be the difference between your guests hearing a heartfelt story or inspiring message, or wondering what the person is doing to make the microphone buzz and interrupt their conversation.
What size stage will we need? Do we need a stage? How about a dance floor?
Bands will typically need a space of about 16 feet wide by 12 feet deep. If your guest count is less than 500, I recommend a maximum stage height of 18 inches so that the band is closer to the dance floor.
If you have a podium and/or stage decorations, you will need to expand the stage so that there are clear access points to the stage for speakers, honorees, and other guests on stage.
Consider, too, what kind of background you’ll want for your speakers, not just that night, but in photos of the event. It may be best to have the speaker on one side of the stage, and the band on the other, so the speaker gets a backdrop with your agency logo on it that looks great in photos, rather than the drum set over the speaker’s shoulder.
One more quick thought – separating the band and speaking areas minimizes chances for people to trip on wires or bump into instruments.
Often, multiple stage set-ups can work, but planning ahead of time ensures we get the best one. I am always glad to work with the team to optimize stage size, accommodate your floor plan, and to maximize the space available to maximize number of tables you can sell.
What will the band wear?
The bands will wear professional, festive attire.
Do we have to use the hotel’s in-house audio video supplier?
No. You’ve got options. I’m glad to make a referral to independent businesses that specialize in making your gala a success. My referrals are never based on kickbacks or payouts from other vendors. My referrals are endorsements based on first hand working relationships with professionals that live up to my high standards for customer service and have a shared drive to make your event a spectacular success.
If you want to work with the in-house team, I’m glad to help you make sure you pay for what you need, instead of paying for what they’d like to sell you.